Our first attempt at public transportation introduced us to the squat toilets you read so much about in the Lonely Planet. If that wasn't adventure enough for one day, we hopped on a public bus and buried ourselves in with people and their wares en route to Cat Tien National Park. After a tire change, car wash, and many stops to let people on and off, we were finally the last ones to be dropped at a rickety fruit stand at the edge of the Dong Nai River.
Co, our ferry driver, led us to the water where some local teenagers jumped at the chance to take pictures with us (well mostly of Julia, she's a bit of an attraction out here with her fair skin and yellow hair). The wooden ferry boat seats only 4 and takes you across the muddy flowing waters to a small encampment of cabins and canteens. Uncertain how to arrange a guide and select one of the many tours we took the opportunity to tag along with a family of Aussies on an overnight trek to crocodile lake. The 4km hike through dense forest and 100% humidity was uncomfortable but well worth the journey giving us an intimate look into the smaller creatures of the jungle before wandering onto a small network of boardwalks and stilted cabins. A crocodile looked on as we ate our dinner, but the highlight of our excursion was canoeing across the misty waters the following morning to investigate the jungle soundtrack and discover a wide range of exotic birds.
Early mornings and lots of questions have helped us cover ground via public transport. We met Co again on the way out of the park and were directed to a bus station in the town down the road. Meeting school children on the way eager to practice their English we found our stop without a hitch and three buses later, including the live chickens, the uncertain odors, and the piles of people, we poured out onto the cool streets of the mountain city of Dalat. I love it here.
Duc (sounds like 'Took'), our server at "My Town" Cafe, delivered a meal fit for kings and shared a touching story about his recent disappointments. Though he had been working seven days a week while his boss is out of town and recently breaking up with his girlfriend he said today he woke up washed all his clothes, cleaned up his house, and came to work and was so happy to meet us he thought "life is still good." Corny I know, but touching just the same. We expect to return this evening for another delicious meal. We want to give Duc a small gift from home in appreciation for the experience and privilage of that small glimpse into himself.
Today we take a motorbike to explore the city. Wish us luck!